Getting tougher on illegals
ICE program trains deputies
By Andria Simmons
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/03/08
Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister is calling for the county sheriff's department to begin enforcing federal immigration laws.
Bannister wants Sheriff Butch Conway to sign up for a U.S. Immigration and Customs program that trains deputies to start deportation proceedings for illegal immigrants booked into the jail. Only two sheriff's departments in Georgia participate in the program, but it is gaining in popularity.
Conway says he doesn't have the resources to designate the five or six deputies needed for the task. Last year, there were 60 deputy vacancies, and a request for more than 40 additional deputies to fill staffing needs in 2008 was shot down by commissioners due to budget constraints, Conway said Wednesday.
“At this point, I just don't have the personnel to do it, even if I want to,” Conway said.
Bannister argues the county must move forward with the issue of illegal immigration, even if it's costly.
Immigration is a hot-button issue this year. Both the commission chairman and sheriff's posts will be up for re-election this November. Georgia law only requires jails to check residency status of foreign-born inmates charged with a felony or driving under the influence. The ICE program trains deputies to check the residency status of any foreign-born inmates, regardless of their crime.
In 2007, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren became the first sheriff in Georgia to initiate the ICE program. Whitfield County in North Georgia will begin training some of its deputies this month, according to ICE spokeswoman Pat Reilly. Other in-state participants include a select group of state troopers and officers with the GBI and Department of Public Safety.
The ICE initiative is not new – it began in 2002 – but Reilly says there is a recent emphasis on promoting participation with state and local agencies because it serves as a “force multiplier,” putting more boots on the ground in the illegal-immigration fight.
Participation on the local level has risen. In 2002, 35 state and local law enforcement officers were trained. In 2007, 426 were trained.
There are currently two ICE agents stationed full-time at the Gwinnett jail. Last year, 360 inmates were deported and 127 were placed on hold pending further investigation into their residency status, according to the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department. Conway says he isn't convinced that training deputies to enforce federal immigration laws will prove any more effective.
Commissioner Lorraine Green, who is running against Bannister for county chairman, also is skeptical. “There is some concern that we would lose the two ICE agents at the jail if we went to [the ICE program], and those are paid for by the federal government,” Green said.
Bannister says he plans to continue emphasizing the issue as part of his campaign platform. Conway is braced for a continued debate.
“There is a lot of illegal immigrant anti-sentiment,” Conway said. “I think it's going to be a real hot-button issue in this year's elections.”
A GROWING FORCE
Number of local and state law enforcement agents trained to enforce federal immigration laws.
Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
GWINNETT COUNTY JAIL
2,578: Current jail population
645: Estimated number of foreign-born inmates in a given month
39,223: Total number of inmates booked into the jail in 2007
360: Number of inmates released to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation in 2007
127: Number of inmates being held for ICE investigation
Source: Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department